Dr. Olatunji Akintude Braithwaite was born in 1933 to the prominent Braithwaite family in Lagos, Nigeria and attended the then prestigious CMS Grammar School from 1946 to 1953. He did his A Levels at the London University in Kennington College in 1955 and subsequently enrolled as a Law student in 1957/58 at the Council of Legal Education, London where he graduated in 1960.
Mr. Braitwaite set up a thriving law firm in Lagos and one of the popular cases he handled as a young man in his twenties, was the defense of the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo, in his treasonable felony trial of 1962/63. He went on to successfully defend Olabisi Ajala, despite intimidation by members of the military junta. He also defended the late music icon, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, following the military invasion of the musician’s shrine and took legal steps to redress some of the oppressive actions of Obasanjo-led military regime. He was also a lawyer and legal advisor to many organizations, including trade unions and international companies.
Mr. Braithwaite, wrote law books, including “The Jurisprudence of the Living Oracles,” and was working on an autobiography before his death. His book vividly captures the politics of the second republic, the factors and men that structured that era as well as his relationship with Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
With an intense passion for humanity and equality, he founded the defunct Nigerian Advanced Party (NAP) in 1978. Members of this party included high intellectual minds like Wole Soyinka. His party, NAP, registered in 1983, was one of the six political parties in the country on the platform of which he contested as a presidential candidate, but lost to the incumbent president, Shehu Shagari .
His sharp, witty and metaphorical campaign speeches are still quite popular today. He promised to ‘Kill all the rats and cockroaches’ and move residents living in Mushin to the Island and the Island to Mushin. Analysing his speech, we know he was referring to the looters and thieves who come under the cloak of government officials. He also promised to ensure equality for all Nigerians: equal rights and equal opportunities. He spoke radically against a ‘selected’ rich getting richer and the masses getting poorer.
In 2009, Mr. Braithwaite retired from active politics after almost 30 years but he continued to exert influence through some pressure groups that he helped to form. Some of these groups include the Nigerian Intervention Group, the National Consensus Group and lately the National Action Coalition, from which he fought for the reversal of fuel subsidy removal. He even participated in some protest marches against some policies of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.
While marking his 80th birthday in 2013, Mr. Braithwaite explained how he was able to combine civil right activism, politics and legal practice. “Interestingly, all three are inter-related,” he said. “If you are a lawyer, you’ve got to know what the constitution of the country where you are says.
“Beyond that, if you are expansive, you will even know the constitutions of other nations not to talk about the United Nations. And you become really international because the world has become a global village kind of.
“So as a lawyer, concerned with the rights of the society, corporate society and the rights of individuals, you will see that the three: law, activism and politics are related. The profession of law offers better platform for any budding politician.
“This is not to say other professions; other disciplines are averse to being in politics, but the profession of law gives the lawyer a head start ahead of others. So, it has not been difficult to combine these three together.”
Mr. Tunji Braithwaite died at the the age of 82. In his tribute, President Muhammadu Buhari described Mr. Braithwaite as “selfless, patriotic and intellectually deep.” The president said the late politician passed away at a time his wisdom, intellectual depth, vast knowledge and experience were deeply needed by the country.